He’s originally from South Florida and has been living on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta for 51 years.
LaMont Albertson works with the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and cooperates with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission to collect fish data through the Community Harvest Program.
The program is designed to collect fish data through subsistence users and from traditional Elder knowledge. For the past two years, he’s been working up and down the Kuskokwim River collecting fish data with help from Akiak: Mike Williams Jr. and Carl Ivanoff; Akiachak: Terrance Ekamerak; Kwethluk: Otten Howard, Colleen Andrews, and James Nicori; Napaskiak: Bernard Williams, Welsey Nicholai, and Sharon Williams; and Tuntutliak: Thomas Thomas, Isaiah Pavilla, and James Charles.
After a fish closure, he uses an app to report fish data that has been collected from subsistence users. The app quickly releases the data to the biometricians who tally up all the numbers. After all the numbers are tallied, the biometricians release the numbers of fish caught. The tallied numbers help determine when the next fish opener will be.
Orianne "Orrie" Reich has been working with Albertson for the past two years. While out in the field at fish camps up and down the river, they are interested in asking people what they are catching, how strong the runs are, and the timing of the fish runs. The numbers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission are all used to compile the fish data for analysis.
The villages are learning the Western view of managing the fish openers and closures. Before the working group meeting, a prayer is started. All the fish data is shared with other monitors at the meetings. Albertson wishes that there were more young scientists from the region gaining Western knowledge of managing the resources since he feels that traditional ways of management are already known. When managing resources the Western way and the traditional way, Albertson explains that he would like to see local managers who have an understanding of Western science and who already have traditional knowledge of fish resources. He feels that the best management of these programs will be a mixture of the two ways of thinking.
“This is a form of power. This is sovereignty, to be able to assist in management of your resources,” Reich explains. She continues, “Subsistence is [a] very spiritual activity. On the village level we see that strongly.” Reich explains how St. Olga of Alaska came into the Community Harvest Program. Olga Michaels, a Yup’ik Eskimo from Kwethluk, was married to a Russian priest. She is the patron of fishing because women are important in harvesting and storing fish away for their families. She was always giving and was hardly noticed. A lady from the East Coast was ill. She had a dream, and when she came out of her dream she was healed. Without any knowledge of Yup’iks or Russian Orthodoxies, she drew a picture of Olga Michaels who she had seen in her dream.
Reich explains, “A great devotion exists to Olga. Down through history, all great nations have had heroes and heroines and the religious groups have had saints. Well, I like to think of the Yup’ik nation on the Kuskokwim River having models, models of strength, and Yup’ik women are models of strength and Olga optimizes this.”
Reich tells a story about a woman from Kwethluk who was getting ready to go to fish camp. She was so happy because the family would be together, said Reich. “The strength of the tribes is in the families and being able to work together. In a personal power sovereignty, it’s all tied into fish,” she said.
If you’d like more details about the Community Harvest Program contact Albertson or Reich at (907) 947-4405.